Remember that song from long ago—“Anything you can do, I can do better?” I believe it was from the musical, Annie, Get Your Gun, and I had it on repeat in my mind as I was putting shredded zucchini in the starring role for this popular Greek condiment. A typical tzatziki would be made with grated cucumber, but the sheer volume of zucchini coming from my garden has me changing up everything these days. I thought there was a good chance zucchini could stand in for the cucumber—alongside the Greek yogurt, minced garlic and fresh herbs—and it really worked!
We enjoyed this zucchini tzatziki over July 4th weekend, with grilled chicken souvlaki and grilled shrimp. And it was just as delicious last night with the leftovers!
If you find yourself with an over-abundance of zucchini, as I expect is probably the case for everyone who has planted it, then give this a try.
As with cucumber, the zucchini needs to be salted generously and rested in layered towels so that the excess moisture can be released. The amount of salt used to draw out the moisture is almost exactly the amount needed to season the dish, so it works out well.
Next, stir and measure out the Greek yogurt into a small bowl. Add the drained zucchini, finely chopped fresh garlic, black pepper and fresh herbs—dill and mint are traditional, so that’s what I used—and give the whole thing a big stir. Adjust the salt to your liking; it may not need any extra at all. Cover and refrigerate the tzatziki until you’re ready to use it. Stir it well just before serving.
Tzatziki is so flavorful, with a garlic bite and the cooling nature of the mint and dill. I could eat it all summer, and now that I know how well zucchini works in this recipe, I’ll be doing it this way again. Below is a printable version of the recipe, and keep scrolling to find a few more delicious ways to enjoy tzatziki. 🙂
1 tsp. kosher salt (for drawing moisture from the squash)
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used 2% milkfat)
2 or 3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
additional salt, to taste
Spread zucchini shreds evenly across a double layer of paper towels, or on a clean kitchen towel (choose one that is lint-free and not washed with fragrance or fabric softener). Sprinkle salt all over the shreds, tossing them a bit to ensure even coverage. Fold the towel up to contain the zucchini in a “packet,” and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours. I placed my zucchini packet in a shallow glass dish to prevent drips.
Transfer salted zucchini to fresh layers of paper towel and blot well to wick away lingering moisture. You may be surprised how wet the original paper towels are, and a great deal of the salt will be soaked into them as well.
Stir the Greek yogurt and measure it out into a small bowl. Add the zucchini shreds, garlic, herbs and black pepper. Stir to combine. Adjust salt to your liking.
Keep the tzatziki refrigerated until ready to serve. It will keep in the fridge for several days, but may separate over time. Give it a good stir just before serving.
It has been an interesting week at our house, between the saga of our bathroom remodel, which included some high drama that nearly wrecked me (more on that another day), and an unfortunate, middle-of-the-night accident that occurred in the rear corner of our raised bed garden. It’s been going gangbusters, thanks to the vigilant security provided by this little fella:
The “Yard Defender” has restored my hope for a vegetable garden, after several (literally) fruitless years of battle against the herd of deer that resides in the woods behind our cul-de-sac. We’ve tried all the home remedy stuff—Irish Spring soap, garlic hung on strings that spanned the tomato cages, human hair, commercial potions with a nasty rotten egg odor, ALL of it—and last year, well, I didn’t even bother. But with grocery prices soaring, I wanted to try again and so I splurged on this motion sensor device, advertised with the slogan, “don’t hurt ‘em, just squirt ‘em!”
The thing has peripheral vision to spot deer (or other critters, or unsuspecting neighbors) when they approach the garden, and launches a hearty spray of water to chase them off. My garden looks better than ever! Yesterday morning, though, our neighbor texted to tell me that “something had happened” to one of my zucchini plants, and when I went out to investigate, I discovered what appears to be a hit-and-run.
First of all, this trellis is heavy duty, so this was a serious accident. I was trying to train my zucchini to grow upward on both sides of it, to make more space in the garden and encourage more fruit. It was looking so healthy and I’ve just begun to see blossoms forming. My assumption is that a good-sized deer was already standing in the garden when the sensor detected its movement, and the precious thing got so spooked by the abrupt noise and spray, it panicked and fell onto the trellis. I have since moved the Yard Defender to the rear of the garden, where the tomatoes grow (it’s what they are after anyway), and hopefully we can avoid another dangerous incident. For sure, at least one of my zucchini plants is doomed (it was crushed, along with the trellis), but I hope that the other three endure so I can join the chorus of those who are sick to death of zucchini recipes, come August. Until then, I will continue to harvest what is growing out of control on the inside of my house, in the Aerogarden.
Here we go again, with the Thai basil!
I’ve been scrambling to come up with interesting ways to work this herb into “the rotation,” which is an inside joke for me and my husband, who swears we have not eaten the same thing twice since 2016. This is his fault, I say, for marrying a woman who loves to experiment in the kitchen. But using what is local and plentiful is part of what I do, and it doesn’t get more “local” than the dining room. I have in mind to substitute it for mint in a Mojito this weekend, and I’ll let you know how that goes. For now, let’s talk about what went into this bowlful of goodness.
Some of the vegetables in this recipe were the same as in the Thai Basil Chicken I shared last week, but there were plenty of swaps that make this dish different. I used carrots and red bell pepper again, swapped in scallions for regular onions, and cut up the first fruit of my 2022 garden, a wonky eggplant!
Shrimp was my protein and I shifted the sauce to a green curry-coconut vibe. Green curry is a vibrant blend of warm spices mixed with lemongrass, kaffir lime, green Thai chile and galangal, a rhizome that looks like ginger but tastes more herbal. It would be quite complex to make green curry from scratch, but a store-bought paste makes this recipe very simple. The aroma of the paste is pleasantly intoxicating, especially when it first hits the oil in your pan. Coconut milk is a natural companion for the flavor of any curry, and for this recipe, I used a “light” version to reduce the overall fat, but a full-fat coconut milk is fine and would lend more of the coconut flavor.
My first taste of green curry (circa 2005) was a pleasant surprise, and I was introduced to it by an unexpected culinary expert—my then-quite-young stepdaughter. She became a foodie at an early age, in part by my influence, but also that of her mother, who introduced her to Thai food when she was still in elementary school. Yes, when other kiddos were clamoring for fried chicken fingers at chain restaurants, our global flavor-savvy girl was scouting out the nearest sushi joint or Indian restaurant. When I had mentioned to her on a family dinner out in a Thai restaurant that I didn’t care for curry, she asked, incredulously, “not even green curry?” She offered me a taste of her favorite green curry chicken, and I was hooked. I’ve made it at home a few times in recent years, but this was my first time with shrimp. Delicious!
There is a bit of heat in my rendition of this dish, not only from the green curry paste, which leans spicier than red and yellow curries, but amped up by a few shakes of another fun ingredient in my pantry—Asian Reds hot chile blend, available online from the Flatiron Pepper Co. website. To be clear, I don’t get paid to brag about them, but I probably should, given that we own a bottle of darn-near every variety they make. What sets this company apart from others is that it offers region-specific blends of peppers that are otherwise hard to find. The Asian Reds includes Thai chile and ghost pepper, both of which are damn hot. I heartily recommend it for adding heat to any Asian-inspired dish, but a quick shake of the red pepper flakes you probably already have will work in a pinch for this recipe, or you could mince up half of a red jalapeno into the veggie mix for similar heat effect.
My advice for making this dish is the same as most every Asian-inspired recipe, and that is to get all your ingredients lined up and ready before you begin because things move quickly once the oil hits the pan. That means chop up your vegetables, clean and de-vein your shrimp and get your rice cooking (you’ll want that, for soaking up every last drop of the flavorful green curry sauce). Place a heavy bottomed pan over medium-high heat and add a couple of tablespoons of high-heat oil, such as canola, peanut or coconut. Give a quick stir-fry to the carrots and peppers first, because they take longer to cook. Then, add the scallions and garlic and toss long enough for the initial steam to dissipate. Move the vegetables to the outer edges the pan, drop another tablespoon of oil to the center and plop the green curry paste onto it. Prepare to be entranced by the aroma!
When the oil sizzles around the green curry paste, use a utensil to break it up and toss it with all the vegetable ingredients, so that everything is covered in a light film of the curry paste. The eggplant should go in last, given its tendency to instantly absorb oil. Toss everything just enough to coat the pieces, then add the entire can of coconut milk and stir to blend. Sprinkle in hot pepper flakes (if you want the extra heat), reduce the heat to low and cover the pan to simmer for 3 minutes. This gives the vegetables time to soften, and allows the green curry flavor to permeate everything.
Add the shrimp to the pan and stir to submerge them beneath the simmering liquid. Depending on the size of your shrimp, it should only take 3 to 5 minutes for them to lose their pink color, so watch them closely. Add a handful of Thai basil and stir to wilt it into the dish. Serve immediately with a portion of jasmine rice.
Garnish with a pretty Thai basil leaf if you want to be fancy. 😉
This recipe comes together quickly and with ease, thanks to a store-bought paste that captures all the important flavors of Thai green curry. Substitute chicken or tofu if you wish. If you don’t have Thai basil, you could substitute regular basil or omit it altogether.
3 Tbsp. high-heat cooking oil, such as canola, peanut or coconut (you will divide this for cooking the vegetables and blooming the curry paste)
1 red bell pepper, sliced and halved
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut on a bias
3 scallions, cut on bias (white and green parts)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium Japanese eggplant, cut into bite sized chunks
2 Tbsp. prepared green curry paste
1 can light coconut milk (this is the culinary variety, not cartons for drinking)
a few shakes hot red pepper flakes, for extra heat
1/2 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
a handful of fresh Thai basil leaves (optional but delicious); substitute regular basil if desired
hot cooked jasmine rice, for serving (I used brown jasmine rice for extra flavor and nutrition)
Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and stir-fry the carrots and red peppers for about two minutes to give them a head start. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add scallions and garlic and toss to coat and wilt the scallions.
Move the vegetables to the outer edge of the pot. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the center and spoon the green curry paste onto the oil. This will “bloom” all the flavors of the paste. Break it up a bit with your cooking utensil, then stir it together with the cooked vegetables. Add the eggplant and toss to coat.
Pour the entire can of light coconut milk into the pot and gently stir to blend. Sprinkle on hot pepper flakes (if using) and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and cover the pot, simmering for about three minutes, or until the mixture reaches a slight boil.
Add the shrimp pieces. tossing lightly to submerge them beneath the simmering liquid. Keep a close eye on them, as they will cook in as few as 3 minutes, depending on their size and original temperature.
Stir in Thai basil leaves until wilted. Serve immediately with hot cooked jasmine rice.
If at first you don’t succeed, wait a year and try again. Yes, I know that isn’t exactly how the adage goes, but it seems to be my M.O. when I get discouraged over failed recipes. Falafel has confounded me as much as it has enchanted me, from my first-ever taste of it at a now-closed corner diner near the campus of UNC-Greensboro to my most recent experience of it at Miznon in New York’s Chelsea Market. It was that most recent taste that inspired me to give falafel another go.
I love the texture of these crispy little gems and especially the vibrant flavor that is jam-packed into every delicious bite. Falafel is a Middle Eastern specialty, made from ground-up chickpeas and a ton of fresh herbs and spices. It is usually shaped into balls or disc shapes and fried until crispy, though I have also seen oven-baked falafel, which has a somewhat pale and less visually enticing appearance. Undoubtedly, it can be made in an air fryer—and perhaps someone reading this will chime in to share their results of that method. I have tried both fried and oven-baked falafel a few times but got increasingly frustrated with each fail, and then put off trying again for longer and longer stretches of time. How could this be so difficult, I wondered? The dish eventually moved to the top of my culinary “bucket list,” and I’m pleased to say that I finally won the falafel challenge.
As it turns out, falafel was only difficult to make because I was resisting the instructions that were right in front of me the whole time. I tried to make them from canned chickpeas (which doesn’t work) and then I tried making them with canned chickpeas that were subsequently roasted and dried out in the oven (which also doesn’t work). When I finally gave in and tried them the correct way, they turned out terrific! What is the correct way, you ask? Using chickpeas that have been soaked but not cooked.
My favorite thing about cooking—besides the obvious enjoyment of delicious food that’s made cheaper at home than you would buy somewhere out—is the science behind it, and it turns out there is a perfectly good reason that soaked, uncooked chickpeas are the best bet for perfect falafel. Thank goodness for J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the culinary genius who runs “The Food Lab,” and a frequent contributor on the Serious Eats website. He is sort of an Alton Brown for the new generation, and his scientific explanation on falafel is the best I’ve read to date. Here’s the upshot: soaking rehydrates the chickpeas so you can work with them, and it keeps the sticky starches trapped inside. Those starches get released when the chickpeas are cooked during frying (or baking), and that starch release is what helps the falafel rounds hold together. If the chickpeas are already cooked (as in canned), the starch is spent, and you end up with a mess. My ridiculous attempts to return canned chickpeas to a firmer, drier texture by roasting them in the oven didn’t work because they were still already cooked. This time around, I followed the science offered by J. Kenji, and guess what I ended up with? Near-perfect falafel.
In a weird twist of fate, the best way also happened to be the easiest of the methods I had previously tried. Soaking the chickpeas took almost no effort, then I drained and rinsed them in a colander, rolled them around on paper towels to wick away excess moisture, and then pulsed them in my food processor with a fat handful of fresh herbs and generous amounts of Mediterranean spices. Further following J. Kenji’s advice, I kept my falafel small, using my large cookie dough scoop to compact them into rounds, which I fried up nicely in a shallow skillet. For the love of flavor, why did I wait so long to follow the rules?
Falafel is great as a pick-up snack, dipped in tahini-lemon sauce. We enjoyed it as a sandwich filler, nestled with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles into a warm, whole grain soft pita. My husband and I agreed that the flavors in this revelatory batch of falafel could stand to be a little bolder, and maybe even a bit more garlicky. I will play with the seasonings a bit on my next go, and you can bet that I won’t be waiting a year.
1 cup dried chickpeas, sorted and rinsed
4 cups cold or room temperature water
Several scallions (white and green parts)
About 2 cups loosely packed fresh Mediterranean herbs* (see notes)
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and rough-chopped
1 tsp. each cumin and coriander seeds*
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne (optional)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Several grinds black pepper
A few teaspoons flour (if needed), as a binder for overly wet falafel mixture*
Falafel is of Middle East origin, so the Mediterranean herbs work best here. Parsley (curly or flat), mint, dill and cilantro (also called “fresh coriander”) all work great in this recipe, but I would not recommend basil, thyme or rosemary. It is essential that you use fresh herbs for this recipe, as they contribute texture in addition to flavor. After rinsing the fresh herbs, take time to also dry them on a clean kitchen towel or layers of paper towel, so that you don’t add unwanted moisture to the falafel mixture.
I prefer the intensity of freshly ground seed spices, but if you only have pre-ground cumin and coriander, it’s no problem. Use slightly less, perhaps 3/4 tsp. of each.
Ideally, the chickpea mixture will hold together without the flour binder. But I found that a few sprinkles of flour were necessary to pick up lingering moisture. I used a tablespoon of garbanzo bean flour, but all-purpose or rice flour would probably work also.
There was a time (in the not-so-distant past) that we didn’t rely on overly processed food from the supermarket for every little thing. Before the grocery aisles were jam-packed with 173 kinds of salad dressing, there was oil and vinegar, and people spiced those up by whisking in a handful of other common items to create dressings far tastier than the pre-made stuff. Vinaigrette is one of the simplest dressings to make from scratch, and creamy dressings are equally simple with a few basic ingredients.
You might be amazed at how much flavor you will be able to create at home with nothing more than simple fridge items, a few spices and a whisk (or, as I’ll show you today, a food processor). On the economic side, it costs pennies on the dollar to make your own dips and dressings, and it only takes a few minutes to pull them together.
The other benefit of making your own dressing—besides the savings and the flavor factor—is that you will know exactly what is in it. Commercial dressings contain so many stabilizing and preservative ingredients that aren’t necessary. And if it seems a healthier bet to buy the packets of ranch dressing mix and “make it yourself” with fresh buttermilk, all I can suggest is to take a closer look:
I suppose these ingredients might be perfectly harmless (remember when they said that about partially hydrogenated vegetable oil?), but it’s a fair assumption that the fresh herbs and minimal spices you add to a real homemade dressing will present a lesser concern. And your dressing will taste better, which might even lead you to enjoying more salads and vegetables.
For this creamy ranch dressing dip, I have used a whole bulb of roasted garlic to add a mellow flavor to plain Greek yogurt, buttermilk, olive oil-based mayo and a bunch of fresh herbs. A little salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and that’s all there was to it. If you prefer a bit more zing, use fresh garlic, but only a fraction of what is called for here. If you don’t have the same fresh herbs, substitute what you have or what you like. If you want to add half of a ripe avocado in place of some of the mayonnaise, go for it.
My homemade roasted garlic ranch dip was intended for dipping fresh veggies as a game day snack, but if you prefer a more pourable dressing for salads, simply ease up on the mayo and use more buttermilk.
This recipe makes about 1 1/4 cups.
2 scallions, white and green parts
1 small handful fresh parsley
1 small handful fresh dill
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 an average-sized fruit)
1/4 cup stirred Greek yogurt (whole fat or 2% recommended)
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. carboxymethylcellulose (just kidding—I’ve never heard of this, but it’s in the store-bought ranch mix!)
Choose a mayonnaise that you trust, bearing in mind that labels can be misleading. The front of the jar may suggest that your mayo is made with olive oil, but on further inspection, soybean oil could be listed as the first (most prominent) ingredient, with the healthier oil listed much later. Learning what your food is made of can be an eye-opener, and when you do find a product that meets your health standards, you will be able to build on it to make a lot of other foods serve you better.
Thick buttermilk works especially well for dip-style dressings. Look for a brand that doesn’t have a lot of “gum” ingredients, which are unnecessary stabilizers. Bacterial cultures should be present in good buttermilk as well. And for this dip, I do not recommend making a buttermilk substitute using regular milk and lemon juice or vinegar. That works for some baking recipes, but not in this instance, as you will miss the smooth textural element that buttermilk lends to your dip or dressing.
I love roasting garlic for use in many things, and it is easy to do. If you have never made your own, you may find some helpful tips in my previous post for making your own roasted garlic. When roasted, the garlic takes on a mellow, somewhat nutty flavor that lends a lot of depth to foods. If you prefer fresh, or simply don’t have the time or patience to roast it, I would recommend only using one or two segments of the garlic rather than a whole bulb (unless you’re battling vampires, obviously).
Begin by chopping up your fresh herbs, together with the Dijon, salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil. I made a small batch this time, and my processor only rough-chopped these ingredients, even in the small insert bowl. As long as the volume reduces to make room for the other ingredients, it’s fine.
Add the mayo and pulse to combine. Add the roasted garlic and process until you no longer see visible bits of the garlic.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add yogurt, buttermilk and onion powder, and whisk until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste (remember that additional salt will need time to dissolve, so you may want to let it rest a few minutes before final taste adjustments).
Chill the dip at least one hour before serving. Enjoy within a few days for best freshness and give it a good stir when you take it out of the fridge.
With the arrival of fall comes the joy of having the house filled with the addictive aromas of meaty stews, roasted vegetables, and every variety of freshly baked breads and desserts. A few days before we dismantled the kitchen for our remodel, I pulled this favorite sourdough recipe out of my arsenal and baked it to accompany the roasted butternut squash lasagna that I shared last month.
The recipe I share today is a mashup of several bread recipes I have tried from an amazing blog called “The Fresh Loaf.” The site is a virtual community and message board for sourdough lovers—from novice to expert—and over the years, I have gained invaluable wisdom by eavesdropping on the conversations of those I consider to be far advanced of my own skills. I was barely beginning my own sourdough journey when I discovered TFL, but the pictures and formulas I found there inspired me to attempt new techniques, and I now proudly consider myself to be an “intermediate” bread maker.
One of the methods I learned is baking with steam, a simple technique that results in a perfectly crusty yet chewy exterior and lovely crumb texture that the aficionados would call “gelatinized.” Breads made with this steam-baked method make fantastic toast and sandwiches (especially grilled cheese).
The generous amounts of onion and sage I’ve added to this loaf also make it perfect for Thanksgiving stuffing or dressing, or you can follow my lead with any stale leftovers and turn it into savory croutons for hearty salads and all the soups you’ll be simmering during the autumn and winter months ahead.
Besides the intoxicating fall-scented flavors, this loaf also uses a pre-ferment, which is a fancy way of describing a pumped-up sourdough starter, and a soaker, which is nothing more than grains (in this instance, corn) that have been soaked overnight in water—a technique that coaxes the deepest flavors out of the grain and into the bread.
The kneading method used for this bread is also a bit different. It’s called “stretch and fold,” and it is an easy way to build strength in dough with a high volume of water, without so much messy, sticky kneading. Try this a few times, and you will be astonished at the elastic texture and volume achieved in the bread dough.
If this all seems confusing, trust me, it isn’t. I have found sourdough baking to be joyfully simple once you get the hang of it. As I mentioned last fall when I made the sourdough pumpkin challah, this kind of baking—naturally leavened and slow-fermented—is like a good relationship; the more you open yourself up to it, the more it comes back to you until you finally reach a point of familiarity that you can’t imagine ever buying a loaf of bread at the grocery store.
One more note: I strongly recommend measuring ingredients by weight when baking any kind of bread, but especially sourdough. Weight measuring takes the guesswork out of your ingredient ratios, and you can find an inexpensive, easy-to-use kitchen scale just about anywhere, including Walmart (where I bought mine).
That’s my story, and this is my favorite sourdough for autumn. I hope the pictures entice my fellow sourdough bakers to give it a go, and if you scroll to the bottom of the post, you’ll find a downloadable PDF for your recipe files. My ingredients are listed in grams (sorry, no volume measurements), so go on and get your kitchen scale and get baking.
If this were a normal year, the Greek Orthodox church in our city would not have had a long line of cars snaking around it this past weekend, with drivers waiting to purchase prepared food in white Styrofoam take-out boxes. It would not have been nearly so quiet, and it would not have been the impersonal experience my husband, Les, had when he picked up our Saturday night meal. The string of taillights ahead of him and the line of vehicles in his rear-view mirror were a stark contrast to a “normal” mid-May visit to the church’s annual fundraiser.
The Greek Festival should have been a noisy, three-day celebration for all ages, packed with singing, music, dancing, eating, drinking and intermittent yells of, “Opa!!!!” There would be authentic heritage costumes and colorful art for sale and scheduled history lessons inside the Orthodox Church sanctuary. But this has not been a normal year, nor was it last year, when the Greek Festival was cancelled altogether for safety reasons. This year, at least, the church gave it a go by offering drive-through pickup of its most popular food items—some prepared and some frozen. Sadly, the take-out box did not do my hot meal any favors, but I have higher hopes for the spanakopita we tossed into the freezer.
The food is one of the things I usually love most about the Greek Festival, and you can bet I will be there next year when things (hopefully) look more normal. The flavors of the Greek culture are so bold and fresh, and I cannot resist applying them to foods that don’t necessarily speak Greek, including this inspired pizza.
Les and I enjoyed this one a couple of months ago, and I am finally sharing it here on Comfort du Jour. We have a regular tradition of Friday night pizza at our house, and though we do enjoy a classic Italian sausage or pepperoni pie, you know I also love to twist them up with other flavors. Visit the Pizza Party page for a quick review if you are looking for some new topping ideas.
For this tantalizing “Big Fat Greek Pizza,” I started with my own N.Y.-style pizza dough and a simple tomato sauce base, the same as I would use on a traditional Italian pie. Next, I crisped-up bits of “Greek God” sausage, an offering of one of our local butcher counters. The sausage is full of bright herbal flavors—oregano, basil, garlic and rosemary—and I had been imagining it on a pizza for quite some time, though I’m quite sure this pizza would be just as good with no meat. I piled on spinach, red onions, Kalamatas, fresh cherry tomatoes and a whole bunch of feta, and that should have been “Greek” enough. But my favorite part was the dollops of cool cucumber-garlic tzatziki that went into place after the pizza emerged from the oven. The combination of all these ingredients was like a flavor explosion, giving me my very own Greek festival, all in one delicious bite.
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt, stirred
2 Tbsp. half and half
1/4 cup diced cucumber, seeded and patted dry
1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 Tbsp. fresh dill leaves, chopped (chop some extra for sprinkling over the finished pizza)
Combine ingredients and keep refrigerated until ready to serve pizza.
1 link cooked and sliced Greek God sausage* or similar product (see notes)
1/2 medium red onion, sliced
1 fat handful baby spinach leaves
Handful of pitted Kalamata olives*, roughly chopped
6 or 7 cherry or grape tomatoes, washed and halved
3/4 cup fresh feta, crumbled*
Additional chopped fresh dill, for serving
If you decide to try my version of N.Y. pizza dough, note that it takes a few days’ time in the fridge, so plan accordingly. This recipe is intended for a thin-crust pizza, and my heating and bake time instructions are specific to baking on a pizza steel or stone. If you prefer to bake on a pan or at lower temperature, adjust your baking time to your preferred method.
The “Greek God” sausage I used for this pizza is a specialty product from a specific local grocery. It is a fresh pork sausage, seasoned with basil, oregano, garlic and rosemary, and we cooked (actually, smoked) it prior to using it. Any mild pork, chicken or turkey sausage would make a fine substitute, or you could easily omit the sausage altogether. The other flavors on this pizza are more than enough to elevate your happy.
Kalamata olives are specifically grown in the Kalamata region of Greece, and they are not the same as inexpensive, canned “black” olives. They are more oblong than round, and they are usually packed in a briny liquid with wine or olive oil. It’s easy to find them in jars or on specialty olive bars, if your supermarket has one. They can be a little pricey, but as far as I’m concerned, they are worth their weight in gold. Be sure to select pitted olives for this recipe, unless you find it exciting to crack a tooth.
I prefer to use fresh blocks of feta, as it has better flavor and texture than most crumbled feta. If the feta block is packed in brine, be sure to pat it dry with paper towels before crumbling, to minimize excess moisture.
Preheat pizza steel for one hour at 550° F, or the recommended temperature for your pizza stone, with oven rack about 8 inches from the top heat element. If using a metal pan, place rack in lower third of oven.
Prepare toppings: sauté red onion just until softened, then sauté spinach until wilted. Transfer both to a dish to cool.
Shape pizza dough into a 14-inch round and transfer to a floured pizza peel that is dusted with cornmeal (or place on a greased pizza pan). Brush or spray dough with olive oil, and season with kosher salt and a few twists of black pepper.
Spread tomato sauce evenly over the dough, all but 1 inch around edge.
Distribute the shredded mozzarella, then the cut-up, cooked sausage pieces (if using), onions and spinach, Kalamatas, tomatoes and feta cheese.
Transfer pizza to preheated steel or stone, and bake for about 7 minutes, until crust is golden brown and toppings are bubbling.
Arrange small dollops of tzatziki sauce over pizza, sprinkle with remaining dill leaves.
March was National Flour Month, and I’m finally catching up on paying respect to the many ways flour feeds us, beyond the obvious (bread). My first attempts at making handmade pasta 10 years ago were outright disastrous, mostly because I had assumed the method of stirring eggs by fork into a mountain-like peak of all-purpose flour was going to be easy. In my defense, the shows I had watched on Food Network made it seem easy, but in real life, it was a humongous freaking mess that left me cussing up a storm and vowing that I’d “never make that again.” Truth is, it is those really frustrating failures that inspire me the most to give it another go, and I’m so glad I did!
In my later efforts, I enjoyed more success, letting my KitchenAid do the mixing, but there was always something about the handmade pasta that didn’t sit right with me, even after I had invested in a “Made in Italy” hand-crank pasta roller. The dough always seemed heavy or thick, even on the thin roller setting. It fell apart or crumbled, or stuck to the roller or cutting blades. But a few years ago, I found the perfect, James Beard Foundation-approved recipe that fixed all the problems I had encountered. My issue was not only how I was making the dough or rolling the pasta, but also the ratio of ingredients I was using. To that point, I had been using only all-purpose flour and whole eggs (yolks and whites). I had no idea what temperature was best for my ingredients, nor did I fully understand how long to knead the dough or whether it needed to be rested.
The better recipe, and the one I use to this day, takes advantage of a special variety of wheat called durum, which is used to make semolina flour, the gold standard in authentic Italian pasta recipes. Semolina lends a warm, slightly nutty flavor, a light yellowish color and a firmer, more toothsome texture. It has been a game changer in my journey to making handmade pasta.
The other big difference was a shift in liquid ingredients in my formula. Rather than using whole eggs, the recipe that has become my standard requires separation of the eggs, using only the yolks, plus an amount of water. Once I found this easy formula, the flavor possibilities became near-endless. And that’s where the real fun of making handmade pasta begins! Being creative with the colors, flavors and shapes of handmade pasta is one of the things that gives me—a home cook—a very satisfying sense of accomplishment.
I won’t claim that handmade pasta is “easy,” because I still feel the ego bruises from my early attempts, but I will say that if you are already making handmade pasta, go on and experiment with the flavors until you find something amazing. New flavors make their way into the mix either in the liquid, perhaps by using finely pureed vegetables as part of the water measurement, or by way of dry add-ins, as I am sharing in today’s post. And if you’re still on the fence about trying handmade pasta, I hope my adventure inspires you!
This recipe has helped me use some of the abundance of fresh herbs I’ve had since my husband, Les, gifted me the countertop hydroponic herb garden that keeps throwing parsley at me. The lemon, parsley and basil combination is terrific and perfect for spring, but you could just as easily flavor your pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, roasted red peppers or—well, you can imagine your own (and I do hope you’ll share those fabulous ideas).
8 oz. semolina flour (plus extra for rolling pasta dough)
4 oz. unbleached, all-purpose flour* (see notes)
2 oz. white whole wheat flour*
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup filtered water, room temperature*
2 egg yolks, room temperature*
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (mine is whole lemon-fused for bright lemon flavor)
Zest of one organic lemon* (only the bright yellow peel)
2 Tbsp. very finely minced fresh herbs (I used a combination of Italian parsley and Genovese basil)
All-purpose flour is easy to find, but “00” flour is better if you can get your hands on it. The double-zero flour is milled to a very fine texture, and its use results in tender, silky pasta. I have seen it in well-stocked larger supermarkets, gourmet shops and online. I also use some portion of whole grain flour in my pasta dough, but if you prefer, skip the white whole wheat and make up the difference with equal amount of additional all-purpose or 00 flour.
As with bread dough, I have found that hydration of flour for pasta dough is much improved with room temperature or slightly warm water. Cold water makes for very stiff dough that is tougher to knead.
Eggs are more easily separated when cold, but once this is done, cover the bowl of yolks and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before you begin mixing the pasta dough.
Most of the time, conventionally-grown citrus is fine. But when you intend to eat any part of the peel, it’s best to choose organic to avoid chemical pesticides.
Instructions – making the dough
Zest the lemon and mince the herbs first, and spread them out on a cutting board so that the add-in ingredients dry out a bit.
Combine flours, salt, lemon zest and lightly dried herbs in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Combine egg yolks and water in a separate bowl and whisk them together until the mixture is light and frothy.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour the wet ingredients into the center and use the dough hook to do the blending. Though it might seem logical to mix with the beater blade, using the dough hook completes the blending from the center-out, in the same way as the chefs using only a fork to gradually mix the eggs into the flour. Allow the mixer to do this work for you, until the dough mixture is combined but crumbly, and no dry flour remains in the bowl. Add more water, one tablespoon at a time, if needed to achieve this stage.
Empty the dough onto your work surface, and knead by hand for at least 10 minutes, probably more like 15 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic, with no creases or cracks or lumps. If the dough shows any sign of cracking or breaking, wet your hands and continue to knead, repeating as many times as necessary until the smooth texture is achieved.
Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough ball at least one hour, or up to overnight. Do not refrigerate more than a day.
Time to make the pasta!
Remove the pasta dough from the fridge (still wrapped) about 30 minutes before you plan to roll it, to remove some of the chill. Set up your pasta rolling machine, and keep fresh semolina out to aid in rolling and to prevent the dough from sticking. Have a parchment-lined cookie sheet within reach, and set up your drying rack if you’re using one.
Instructions – rolling the pasta
Unwrap the pasta dough and use a bench scraper or sharp knife to slice off sections of dough about one inch thick. Keep remaining dough tightly wrapped until ready to roll, so it doesn’t dry out.
Flatten a piece of dough into an oval-shaped disk, then roll it through the pasta machine on the thickest setting. For the first few passes, fold the pressed dough in half and run it through again on the same setting. Fold it in thirds, as you would fold up a letter, and turn the dough 90° so that it runs through the machine at a different angle. This helps to reduce curling or bending when the pasta dries later. When the dough feels supple after running through the press several times, begin reducing to thinner setting with each pass.
When the dough reaches the desired thickness (either the thinnest or next-to-thinnest setting, allow the sheet to dry slightly before cutting into strips or using as ravioli. In my experience with pasta, the cutting and shaping stage seems to work better when the pasta is not super-soft. If you rush directly to cutting it, at least with a machine, the dough tends to stick in the rollers, and it will definitely stick to a ravioli mold.
After pasta sheets are complete, allow them to rest for a couple of minutes before cutting, either with the pasta machine or by hand with a fluted pasta trimmer, pizza slicer or sharp knife. If cutting by hand, the simplest way is to fold the pasta sheet crosswise multiple times, and slice through the layers with a pizza wheel or sharp knife. Dust the pasta really well with extra semolina flour before cutting to minimize sticking.
This time, I’ve opted to use the cutter attachment for my pasta roller to fashion my lemon-herb pasta into fettucine strips, but this lemony pasta would also be terrific for making sweet crab-stuffed ravioli, or ricotta-filled tortellini. I will save those for another day. 🙂
We used the lemon-herb pasta in a couple of ways—first, with littleneck clams in white wine broth, and again as a base for an amazing dish of chicken thighs in vodka sauce that Les made for us.
There is a common thread that runs through the culinary fabric of the U.S. South. And that thread, in a word, is sweet. Whether it’s beverages, desserts, BBQ sauces or even potato salad, the foods you find on a southern menu will surely satisfy your sweet tooth. That’s a bit of a challenge for people like me, who prefer more savory flavors. In a salad, I want freshness, with tangy, herbal and briny flavors.
When I spotted an online recipe for potato salad with dill and horseradish recently, I got excited about the brightness of flavors and especially the absence of sugar. I found inspiration in that recipe, so I made it (with my own tweaks, of course), and my husband and I enjoyed it so much I’ve made another batch and it will make its way into our recipe rotation. Me being me, though, and always pushing the envelope on flavors, I’ve adjusted it yet again. This time, I doubled down on the dill, adding chopped dill pickles to the original idea of fresh chopped dill. I heaped jalapeno heat on top of the horseradish and crowned the finished salad with chopped hard-boiled egg. Oh, happy Spring! 🙂
Best of all, for me, is that there is no sugar in sight. The salad is very dill-forward, and that freshness makes me eager for all the other light foods on the way for Spring. The heat, though doubled, is subtle in the background. The yogurt (or sour cream, if you prefer) contributes a creaminess that isn’t all mayonnaise. And the capers and chopped egg provide a little something extra, as a salad you might expect to find in a good delicatessen.
The result is this dilly-dilly, double heat potato salad, delicious as a cool, savory side to sandwiches, hot foods off the grill or anything you might be serving as a casual meal for Passover or Easter.
The best potatoes for this recipe are those that do not fall apart too easily. Red, yellow or white potatoes are all good options. Russets, not so much. Their starchy fluffiness makes them more prone to mashing.
If you do prefer a slightly sweet flavor, substitute bread and butter pickles for the dills. The dill flavor will still be present, but the sweetness will help to soften the savory edges of this salad.
This is the right time of year to find fresh dill in the supermarket, but if you do not have access to it, substitute dried dill leaves, but only about a teaspoon. Remember that dried herbs are much more potent than fresh.
Can’t stand the jalapeno heat? I promise it is subtle, but if you don’t want or like jalapenos, leave them out. This is my recipe, but you are always in charge of the decisions in your own kitchen, so make it the way you like. Want it hotter? Well, now you sound like my husband. Go ahead, add more. 😊
This is one of the simplest recipes, but I’ll share the steps in pictures anyway. Keep scrolling for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.
Cut up the potatoes into large, “three-bite” size. Boil gently until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Drain them and cool completely before cutting them into smaller pieces. If you wish, cook them a day ahead and refrigerate overnight. Cut the cooked potatoes into cubes about the size of croutons.
Combine all remaining ingredients, except eggs, in a large bowl, seasoning the dressing with salt and pepper to taste.
Fold the cut-up potatoes into the dressing. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours.
Serve with chopped hard-boiled eggs scattered on top of the salad.
Don’t be surprised to see a lot of late winter recipes showing up here with highlights of fresh summer herbs. No, I haven’t lost track of the seasons (not possible with all the bad weather news everywhere). It’s more a situation of appreciating the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.
My husband, Les, undoubtedly tired of my chronic lament over the deer having eaten my summer garden, gifted me this year with an AeroGarden. It’s a hydroponic, countertop device with individual seed pods for growing whatever your heart desires (or, at least, whatever is legal in your state). Knowing my love of using fresh herbs in the kitchen, Les opted for the herbal variety pack, which included two basil varieties, chives, mint, thyme and two kinds of parsley.
At first, the thing just sort of sat on the table by the kitchen window, blazing its bright blue light across the kitchen for 15 hours a day. The thing comes on by itself at 5:00 a.m., waking the pets, who then wander in to wake us, because they know it must be almost time to eat. It took me a couple weeks to adjust to this new growing schedule, about the same time that tiny sprouts emerged, first from the Genovese basil. It has been fun to watch our little herb babies grow. 🙂
What began as a fun “let’s see what happens” Christmas gift has turned into a “holy moly, what are we gonna do with all this parsley” adventure. By Valentine’s weekend, I realized I needed to do something with the parsley before it consumed the kitchen, as my outdoor basil did last summer in the backyard garden. Les had asked for simple embellishments to our romantic dinner of lobster tails, including roasted asparagus and a Caesar salad (his fave).
“How do you feel about green goddess dressing,” I asked. And so it was.
Green goddess is a throwback food, originally created in the early 1920s at a San Francisco restaurant, and at that time the dressing included mayonnaise, chives, scallions, parsley, garlic, anchovies and tarragon vinegar. By the late ‘40s, The New York Times published a recipe for it, and it hit the grocery shelves in bottled form about 1973. Thank you, Wikipedia, for all that helpful information.
Like any other recipe, green goddess can be switched up to match your flavor (and consistency) preferences. If you want to use it as a dip, ease up on the buttermilk and add more mayo. Hate basil? Leave it out and use extra parsley. If you are gaga for garlic, double it—or roast it for milder flavor. I went rogue a little bit and added a small handful of baby spinach leaves to this version (hey, they’re green), and I love a recipe that is so flexible. The dressing seems to me a mash-up of ranch and Caesar, but with a bounty of freshness to punch up the flavor and, thankfully, a perfect vehicle for freshly picked herbs.
I’ve made my own salad dressing for years, and this was my first green goddess but definitely not my last. Obviously!
1/4 cup thick cultured buttermilk
Small handful of fresh basil leaves
Small handful of curly or flat parsley leaves
Several stems of fresh chives
2 scallions (white and green parts), trimmed
2 cloves fresh garlic
4 to 6 fillets of anchovy, to taste* (see notes)
2 tsp. prepared Dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
Small handful fresh baby spinach leaves (optional)
1 to 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Remember that anchovies are fairly salty on their own, and you may or may not want additional salt in the mix. If you prefer to omit the anchovies, consider substituting a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce to add a similar punch.
In the small insert bowl of a food processor, combine herbs, scallions, Dijon, salt and pepper, anchovies and lemon juice. Pulse several times to chop herbs into somewhat uniform mixture.
Add mayonnaise and Greek yogurt and pulse about 8 times. Give it a taste and adjust seasonings or ingredients as desired, pulsing to incorporate additions.
Turn processor on steady and slowly drizzle olive oil into the dressing. Transfer dressing to a bowl and chill several hours or overnight.
The joy of baking homemade bread, for me, is second only to the bliss of eating it. Or is it the other way around? When I established my sourdough culture in early 2016, I wasn’t sure how successful the adventure would be or if I would tire of eating “only” sourdough. As I’ve declared here several times, though, sourdough is not exclusively a flavor of bread, but a method of giving rise to the dough, and I rarely use commercial yeast in any form of bread anymore—whether it’s pizza dough, English muffins, waffles, soft pita breads, challah or focaccia. For me, there’s no turning back, and I cannot imagine tiring of it. Sourdough rules!
The potato bread I’m sharing today is my adaptation of a sandwich bread recipe I’ve grown to love by King Arthur Baking Company. KA’s version of this bread uses dry active yeast, but I’ve converted it by conjuring my math skills; I’ve swapped out equal amounts of liquid and flour (by grams, of course) for the appropriate percentage of my ripe-and-ready starter (sourdough nerds understand me). The result is terrific on its own, but I’ve recently taken the recipe a bit further with the addition of minced onions and a dill swirl and—well, wow.
The recipe itself is unusual, in that the mixed dough does not have an initial rise at room temperature; it moves directly to the refrigerator for cold overnight fermentation. It’s very sticky dough that is not easily kneaded, so I recommend use of a stand mixer if you have one. After chilling overnight, the cold dough is easier to handle and shape into a loaf to proof at warm room temperature until it’s ready to bake. Words don’t adequately describe the aroma that wafts from the oven.
The cooked Yukon gold potato and softened butter lend a soft texture and lovely gold color, and the onion and dill I’ve added make it a great choice for all kinds of sandwiches. My hubby declared a few mornings ago that this sourdough potato bread may be his favorite bread ever for breakfast toast. Of course, he has said that about my soft sourdough rye, too (I’ll share that one soon).
My ingredients are measured by weight, because that’s how I bake. I highly recommend a digital scale for consistent results in any kind of baking, but especially for bread. If you’re not ready to get on the sourdough train, you can still enjoy this bread. Follow the original instructions offered by King Arthur, but halve the ingredients, as KA’s recipe makes two loaves. The onion and dill flavors are my own Comfort du Jour twist.
1 large Yukon gold potato, peeled and cut into large chunks (boil and mash the potato, then measure out 100g for use in this recipe)
100g ripe sourdough starter (fed 8 to10 hours earlier; my starter is 100% hydration)
100g lukewarm water* (include the potato cooking water in this total)
40g (about 3 tablespoons) sugar
260g unbleached all-purpose flour*
80g white whole wheat flour*
1 large egg (room temperature)
1 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened to room temperature.
2 Tbsp. dried minced onion, rehydrated 15 minutes in 2 Tbsp. warm water (optional)
2 tsp. dried dill leaves (or 2 Tbsp. fresh dill if you have it)
Reserve the water used in cooking the potato, and add more water to total the amount needed for the recipe. The potato starch in the cooking water will add to the fine texture of the bread.
The original KA recipe calls for only all-purpose flour, but I always swap in at least some amount of whole grain flour. Make it as you like, but don’t swap more than 25% of the total flour without also adjusting the ratio of liquid. My swap is within that suggested limit, and it works great.
Instructions – Day One
Combine all ingredients, except butter and dill, in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed until ingredients come together and form a shaggy ball on the beater blade, and all flour is incorporated. Scrape dough from beater blade. Cover and allow dough to rest 20 minutes.
Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough on low speed for about 2 minutes.
Add the pieces of softened butter, one or two at a time, and mix on speed 2 until each addition of butter is worked into the dough. Continue to knead at this speed for about six more minutes. The dough will be very soft and sticky.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap or elastic cover and transfer immediately to the refrigerator at least overnight or up to 24 hours.
On Baking Day
Lightly spray a clean countertop (and a 9 x 4” bread pan) with olive oil spray. Remove the refrigerated dough to the counter and use your fingers to spread it out into a rectangle shape, about 6 x 18”. Sprinkle the dough with the dill leaves.
Beginning at one of the short ends, roll the dough up tightly, tucking in the ends as you go to keep the dough in a smooth cylinder shape. Use a bench scraper if needed to release the sticky dough from the counter. When you get to the end, pinch the seam closed. Tuck the ends as needed to fit the dough into the greased bread pan. Cover with plastic wrap or elastic “shower cap” cover and proof at warm room temperature until the dough rises above the top of the pan. This may take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on the strength of your starter and the temperature of the room.
Near the end of rising time, preheat oven to 350° F, with baking rack in center position.
Remove plastic wrap from pan and gently transfer the loaf to the oven. At this point, the dough may appear “jiggly;” you don’t want to cause it to collapse, so try not to jostle it too much. Bake at 350 for a total of 45 to 50 minutes, turning halfway through baking time to ensure even browning. At the halfway point, cover the loaf loosely with a foil tent to prevent over-browning. Bread is fully baked when it reaches 190° internal temperature. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn it out onto a cooling rack. You may need to run a clean knife or plastic scraper along the edges of the bread for easier release. Cool at least two hours before cutting, and completely (this may mean overnight) before wrapping it up in a plastic bag.